18 November 2007

Mast Trees

What I and plenty of others think is the sacred Asoka tree is actually something else. The real Asoka Trees is Saraca Asoca or the “sorrow less tree”. See photograph below

Besides being sacred, the Asoka also has many medicinal uses which will be elaborated upon in the next Arunachala Grace Newsletter coming out at the end of this month (for a free subscription, sign up on the left hand column of this Blog).

We often identify the tall, well-pruned trees in parks as “Asoka trees” but they are actually “nettilingams” or Mast Trees, known as Polyalthia longifolia, and belonging to the family Annonaceae.

The tree is found in plentiful numbers around Tiruvannamalai, particularly so in compounds and on side streets outside homes.
Native to South India, Polyalthia longifolia is a tall, majestic evergreen tree with a straight trunk, shining drooping leaves and a wavy margin. The trunk is slender with a compact symmetrical crown and the branches spread at right angles from the stem, giving it a pyramid shape. The tall, straight trunks were formerly used for making masts in the days of sailing ships and hence the common name "mast tree."

The flowering season is from February to April, when star like green flowers appear, giving a hazy appearance to the tree. The inconspicuous greenish yellow flowers found in fascicles are almost hidden amongst dense foliage. The clusters of ovoid fruits are at first green, turning fairly deep purple or black when ripe. The soft and light wood is used for making barrels, packing cases, pencils, matches and for scaffolding and carriage shafts.

Polyalthia Longifolia is an excellent avenue tree planted in close rows. It is a favourite tree in the hands of horticulturists for manicured gardens and landscape architecture. Clamorous and squealing throngs of bats and flying foxes feed on the ripe fruits at night, dispersing the seeds. Festoons of leaves are often used to make arches or are strung across doors during religious ceremonies.

No comments: